United States Magistrate Judge for the District of New Mexico Dismisses Personal Injury Plaintiffs’ Punitive Damages Claim

Personal injury plaintiffs can seek to recover compensatory and punitive damages when litigating in New Mexico courts.  Recently, a truck driver and the company whose truck he was driving at the time of an accident on I-40 moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the punitive damages asserted against them.  The federal trial court adjudicating the underlying personal injury case granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion.

The United States Magistrate Judge adjudicating the summary judgment motion began the court’s analysis by observing that the plaintiffs had not responded to the defendants’ summary judgment motion and that, under the standards set by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the court could not grant the defendants’ motion merely because it was unopposed. Rather, the court needed to determine whether summary judgment could be granted due to the absence of genuine issues of material fact and the defendants’ entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.

Based on evidence on file with the court, including deposition transcripts, the court reconstructed the circumstances of the accident that was the subject of the plaintiffs’ complaint and the defendants’ summary judgment motion.  According to the court, the defendant who was driving the truck at the time of the accident was driving a commercial semi-tractor trailer truck near Grants, New Mexico.   He had been, according to his deposition testimony, working as a truck driver for nearly 40 years.  On the afternoon of the accident, he was allegedly driving between 5 and 20 miles per hour because he was driving in a construction zone.  The plaintiff, driving a pickup truck, was allegedly driving at a speed of approximately 65 miles per hour, which was ten miles over the posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour in the construction zone.  The right side of the pickup truck allegedly came into contact with the left side of the semi-tractor trailer, and the two trucks veered off causing the pickup truck to be pinned against the left guard rail of I-40.  According to the court, there was no evidence that the driver of the semi-tractor trailer was driving erratically or that he intentionally or recklessly caused the accident; he was not cited for a traffic violation.  The court also explained that no evidence had been presented showing the driver’s employer had been malicious, wanton, or reckless in hiring or supervising the driver.

The court went on to explain that, under New Mexico law, a claim for punitive damages may only be recovered from a defendant whose conduct is willful, wanton, malicious, reckless oppressive, or fraudulent.  Based on the facts as presented by the defendants and analyzed by the court, the court concluded that the defendants showed that they did not engage in conduct meeting this standard.  The plaintiffs (who did not respond to the motion for summary judgment dismissing the punitive damages claim) had not, according to the court, shown the presence of a genuine issue of material fact that would preclude dismissal of the punitive damages claim.  Accordingly, the court granted the defendants’ motion and dismissed the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim with prejudice.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, there may be grounds for a financial recovery.  In some cases it may be possible to recover compensatory and punitive damages.  An award of damages can assist people who are injured and their families with the medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by the accident.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued to maximize your recoveries, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.